Land of Artists

Michelangelo most famous statue: Mosé

Exclusive Small Group Tour

Just a few weeks ago, I had a chance to travel through Eastern Tuscany. Even though this territory is quite familiar to me, it had never before occurred to me that there is a phenomenal concentration of artists, poets, mathematicians and Italian painters including Michelangelo, Giorgio Vasari, Piero della Francesca, Francesco Petrarca, Luca Della Robbia, Guido Monaco, Guido d’Arezzo) who were all born in or around the medieval town of Arezzo. Even Academy Award Winner Roberto Benigni is native of this area.

Our wanderings took us on the Strada dei Sapori, (road of flavors) as the locals like to call the road that from Arezzo, the province’s capital, leads to four of the most beautiful valleys of Tuscany.

Val di Chiana is famous for its breed of beef cattle called Chianina, the type used for the famous Bistecca alla Fiorentina. The neighboring valley, Val Tiberina, is known for its art towns of Anghiari, Caprese, Sansepolcro and Monterchi. Casentino Valley is known for the monasteries of Camaldoli and La Verna, and lastly Val d’Arno that winds along the banks of the Arno River up to Florence.
I spent most of the time in Arezzo and in Val Tiberina where we visited and argued about one of the most controversial and enigmatic Renaissance paintings, the Madonna del Parto, by Piero della Francesca who was born in the town of Sansepolcro in 1420. 

We know little about this eclectic artist, but we do know that he was a formally trained mathematician. There are no written records about his career, about how, where or when he got started in the business of painting. There is no record of him working in the “bottega” of older contemporary artists, and it doesn’t appear that he ever had his own bottega, yet he came to fame at a relatively young age, in his 20s. 

Even less is known about the “Madonna del Parto” painting. Was he trying to make a statement about the church and the Roman Catholic establishment of the time? Or, did he want to be humorous and poke fun at something or somebody? Conclusions about him must be drawn from the collection of paintings created during his career.

No matter what Piero della Francesca had in mind, he is one of the many geniuses born and raised in Tuscany during the Renaissance period.  His countless masterpieces can be admired in many churches throughout Tuscany or in the museums of Sansepolcro and Perugia. There are works in London’s National Gallery and in many other major international museums.

Last, but not the least, one small token of appreciation for another local master Michelangelo Buonarroti in Caprese just a few miles from Piero’s birthplace. Not much of his work can be admired there; Michelangelo returned to Florence with his parents while still a baby and started working in the Medici Gardens during the reign of Lorenzo de Medici. Most of his masterpieces can be found in theUffizi Gallery, in the Academia Gallery (The David), the San Lorenzo church and many other places in and around Florence.

Our tour of his works began in the small village of Caprese, on the Tuscan Apennine Range and continued to Florence, the Tuscan capital.  I continued on my own to Rome where the highest of his accomplishments can be admired in the Sistine Chapel, the St. Peter in Chains church and the Campidoglio.

This journey is food for thought………..and a feast for the eyes.

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